Graduate student with a passion for neuroscience hopes to contribute in the fight against mental health disorders

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Featured photo by Deborah Manog Dimaya

Alexandru Sasuclark has been studying neuroscience specialization for the past three years as a graduate student in the cell and molecular biology department at the University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine (UH JABSOM). He was recently awarded “Best Poster Presentation” for his group at the 2021 Annual Biomedical Sciences and Health Disparities Symposium with his research, “Changes in Selenium Status Impact the Development of Parvabulin Interneurons and Perineuronal Nets.”

He credits his older sister for being a positive influence on him as a child and encouraging his love of science.

“The 12-year age gap between us meant that I was able to watch my sister grow into an accomplished PhD graduate. My sister has always compelled me to be the best version of myself and continues to be my inspiration to push my scientific achievements as far as they can go,” said Sasuclark.

Mentored by Dr. Matthew Pitts, JABSOM assistant researcher, Sasuclark studies the effects of selenium on the development of parvalbumin interneurons (PVI), an inhibitory interneuron in the brain, and the extracellular matrix structures that surround these neurons, called perineuronal nets (PNN). Proper maturation of PVIs is essential for brain function and disruption in their development is a characteristic feature of many neurodevelopmental diseases.

Sasuclark’s research found that low and high concentrations of selenium appear to cause fewer PNNs to form around the PVIs and the nets that do form appear to be smaller and therefore weaker. He says this research greatly impacts the people of Hawaiʻi due to the state’s crisis of unhoused individuals with mental health disorders living on the streets.

“My research, if successful, would hopefully add a new diagnostic toolset for medical professionals to assess risk for those already at a high risk for developing neuropsychiatric disorders,” Sasuclark said.